Check Your Favourite Words

What are you favorite parenting words? Do they include “No,” “Stop,” and “Don’t” and other similarly negative words?

There is nothing intrinsically right or wrong with words. In fact all words have their place. But when you overuse them the words lose power and meaning.

Of course, your child still needs to know these words such as when you call out quickly, “Stop!” before they cross the road and they haven’t seen a car coming up unexpectedly in the far lane. There will always be things that are off limits to a child and they need to learn to respect when No means No and when Don’t Touch means Don’t Touch. But if we are constantly saying, “No” or “Stop” or “Don’t”, our children will learn quickly to tune those out.

Breaking a Child

Researchers have found that toddlers hear the word “no” up to 400 times a day. How would you feel if you heard “no” that often, day after day? I think I would give up after a while. If I can’t please you, I’m not even going to try.

These negative words actually work against us as we parent. If you’ll look back at your parenting list of successful commands, how often is your “Don’t yell in the house” actually taken seriously?

Probably not nearly as often as we’d like. So what can a parent do?

Flip It Around

One of the easiest things you can do instead of saying “no” is to tell them what they can do. No, you can’t throw the ball in the house but you can throw the ball outside. Or you can throw this balloon as hard as possible! Give your child safe options using positive words rather than telling them “no” all of the time.

Talk about the Consequences

Rather than coming out and saying “no”, you can use each situation to help your child learn. Have them stop throwing the ball in the house and ask them why they shouldn’t throw the ball. This is giving them a “no” without actually using the word.

You can also share with them how you would feel if they threw the ball and it broke something dear to you. “Mommy would be so sad if you broke that beautiful flower vase she got from Great Grandma.”

By simple exploring the natural consequences of events in real time, your child will quickly pick up that there is an order to how things work. The side benefit is that with regular use, you will easily be able to draw upon this lesson in the future.

“Remember when we talked about not throwing the ball in the house? What did we say could happen?” or “Where did we say you could throw your ball?” or “What could you throw in the house instead?” We’ve avoiding the negative “no” and encouraging them to make better decisions without your constant input.

Match or Mismatch

One of my favourite ways to not say no is to give my child a choice. For example, when my daughter gets dressed for school and she appears in something that I don’t particularly like, I have a choice. I can say, “There is no way you’re going to wear that to school!” and she’ll stomp to her room to change and then huff and puff her way to school.

Or what works even better and can set her day up for success is if I say, “Heh, remember that new pink t-shirt you just got? Would you like to wear that or the shirt with the horses on it? Could you go change into one of those shirts now?” Yes, I’m implying that I don’t like what she’s wearing, but she now has a choice to make. A choice that I’ve already planted in her mind. She’s not hearing the “no” but she’s focussing on which t-shirt she will choose.

Recipe for Tool #5:

Ingredients: the willingness to tune into your words. The ability to creatively speak to your child without using “no”, “don’t”, “stop” and similar words. The patience to show your child the consequences of their behaviour.

Step 1 – Tune In

This is hard to do, especially at first. If you’re finding it difficult to tune into your conversations with your child and hear yourself say “no”, record yourself on your smart phone. Just keep the recorder going and listen to it afterwards.

You’ll find that your speech patterns become very obvious and words that you need to work on will literally jump out at you.

Step 2 – Reframe

As you catch yourself using “no”, “don’t” and “stop”, think creatively. How can you word your request without using these words?

I love the simple technique of simply turning it around and stating the outcome I want. Experiment a little, see what works for you.

Step 3 – Teaching Empathy

Redirect your child’s attention to the consequences of their behaviour. “If you continue to do this, what could happen? How would you feel if that happened?”

If they are doing something to somebody else, put them in that situation in their mind. ‘How would you feel if Sammy took your toy?’

Checking Your Favourite Words is a highly rewarding tool and its effects are lifelong. When you catch yourself coming down hard on your child, take a step back and breathe. There is always a better way to make your point. Remember, are you there simply to make the point regardless of cost or to make the point so it sticks?

When you’ve had a chance to collect your thoughts, step back in and reframe your words. Set your child up for success by ruthlessly limiting the negative words from your vocabulary.


HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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